We tried to debug a microcontroller from our browser

Golioth posts about a question posed by many microcontroller embedded developers: can code be run and debugged in the browser?

One of the first challenges any embedded software developer faces is installing and configuring their development environment and toolchain. Toolchain version, silicon vendor libraries, Windows versus Linux, debug configuration, IDE settings, and environment variables are just a few components of the modern embedded developers workspace. The result of all this complexity is a fragile, hard to reproduce workspace for software often used in critical systems. We consider this developer experience equivalent to torture, and believe it is trapping value from reaching the market.

We know there is a better way. If the development environment can be entirely packaged and abstracted away from the developer they will be able to more quickly begin application development.  A remotely managed toolchain also facilitates more efficient teamwork. It eliminates the cryptic mantra: “Works On My Machine” accompanied by an obligatory shrug.

Technologies like, VS Code, containerization, Microsoft’s Debug Protocol, and Language Server protocol have come together to enable a transformational developer experience. Most of the current approaches to bringing these technologies together in the market are built on top of some variation of VS Code. Each solution is vying to take advantage of VS Code’s capacity to run in the browser as seamlessly as it runs on a local machine.

One option is Github Codespaces.  Which option requires the user to be on a paid plan, is not focused on embedded development, and uses a closed source server that is closed source. Another option is Keil Studio.  Keil Studio is optimized for embedded development with ARM based microcontrollers. Pricing and roadmap are not yet established. It provides no terminal access and offers a limited number of embedded targets to work with.

They chose Gitpod:

We chose Gitpod in part for our mutually valued stance on open source, sustained active community engagement, and obsession with developer experience. Of note is Gitpod’s full-feature free tier. They provides 50 hours of running workspace per month; No payment details required. As a result, the psychological barrier of getting up to get one’s credit card is avoided. Fifty hours is enough time to introduce oneself to the Zephyr and Golioth ecosystems. Finally, Gitpod being open source enables us and our developers to optimize their workspaces to their needs.

Read more here.


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